NEW YORK — The J. Jill Group Inc.’s continuing retail store rollout contributed to significant profit and sales gains in the third quarter.

For the three months ended Sept. 28, the Quincy, Mass.-based multichannel retailer saw net income rise by almost one-third, gaining 31.4 percent to $3.6 million, or 18 cents per diluted share. That compares with the year-ago quarter when the company recorded earnings of $2.8 million, or 15 cents. While third-quarter results included a one-time charge of approximately $1 million, or 3 cents, for costs incurred related to a potential strategic acquisition by the company that was later abandoned, earnings per sharematched the Wall Street consensus estimate.

Sales for the period improved 21.6 percent to $80 million from $65.8 million. Of that, retail sales soared 64 percent, due in large part to 30 stores that have opened since the beginning of the year. In the direct channel, sales gained $2.6 million over prior-year levels to come in at $50.4 million. J. Jill currently operates 81 stores in 28 states with another eight slated to open by the end of the year.

"We feel that the power of our brand, coupled with our diversified business model and the fact that we sell to an underserved market will continue to allow us to actively change J. Jill into a premium national specialty brand," said chief executive officer Gordon Cooke in a conference call with analysts. "Within the retail channel, we intend to open 35 to 40 stores next year and have already committed to two sites."

Greater efficiency also boosted the bottom line as gross margin increased 500 basis points over last year.

Overall, for the first nine months of the year, J. Jill reported net income more than doubled, shooting up 107.7 percent to $12.7 million, or 64 cents per diluted share, versus last year’s profits of $6.1 million, or 33 cents.

Sales for the period rose 22.7 percent to $239.7 million from $195.3 million last year.

Looking ahead, J. Jill reiterated its fourth-quarter sales target of between $106 million and $110 million with EPS of 41 to 43 cents. For the full fiscal year, the company forecasts total revenues in the range of $346 million to $350 million with EPS of $1.05 to $1.07.

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